Rafael Nadal finished the 2017 season as ATP world number one after an astonishing return to form throughout the year. But with a break before the 2018 Australian Open, can he continue to amaze by claiming the one Grand Slam that he has notably underachieved at?
In his remarkable 16 victories in tennis’ four major tournaments, the Spaniard has triumphed just once Down Under – way back in 2009 – compared with two at Wimbledon, three at the US Open and 10 at his favourite French Open.
He has reached three further finals in Australia, however, including at the most recent one back in January when he lost in an epic five-setter with fellow revitalised legend Roger Federer, and there are plenty of signs that he could become just the third man to win each Grand Slam multiple times.
Currently, Nadal is among eight past and present male stars to have achieved the Career Slam, but only Australian duo Rod Laver and Roy Emerson have won all four majors two or more times. So, how apt would it be too for Nadal to join those icons in their own home country and further stake his claim to being the greatest of all time?
The 31-year-old Spaniard is currently nursing an injury after having to pull out of the 2017 ATP Tour Finals, but should be fit for the Australian Open and is second-favourite with most bookies behind just Federer to lift his 17th Grand Slam trophy. Indeed, Nadal’s 2017 resurgence has made him a common name in betting tips across the full 2018 tennis schedule information, with many expecting him to lift a number of titles as he enters the twilight of his career.
Nadal and Federer shared the Grand Slams between them in 2017, and the Swiss great has even shown signs of slowing down himself in recent weeks after his lacklustre performance in the ATP Finals semis. Federer has also recently hinted possible retirement plans after such an intriguing renewal of his rivalry with Nadal throughout the year.
With no emerging stars really stepping up yet either and the Spaniard the champion of the last Grand Slam event, the US Open, Nadal is certainly still the player to beat – especially being world number one and likely top seed.
It remains to be seen whether Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic will be fully fit before the event, but the chances are they won’t be ready to really challenge across two weeks at such a huge tournament just yet after missing so much competitive action.
There is one thing that has seemed to have irked Nadal before the tournament, though, in that the Grand Slam board have announced that there will be a ‘shot clock’ introduced, where players will be given only 25 seconds between points.
Nadal is renowned to take a bit longer than others when serving, but perhaps that will only fire him up further for his quest to join one of the most elite group in men’s tennis – the double Career Slam club.